Quick Tip of the Week: Soup From Scratch, A Little Faster

Our family is addicted to soup, any time of the year. Yet many soups, especially bean and legume varieties, take some advance planning to prepare. Any bit of time savings helps (so does setting up the soup in a slow cooker!), especially for weekday dinners.

The format for preparing most soups is to start with base ingredients like a mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots or other vegetables, sauteing those to soften, adding spices and herbs, then the beans/vegetables/starch, water/broth and bringing the entire thing to a boil before turning the heat down to a simmer. Lately, I’ve found myself getting impatient with that last part.

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Bi-Rite’s Eat Good Food: Chicken Soup with Fennel, Chickpeas and Kale

San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, opened in its current incarnation in 1997, is one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable grocery stores in the Bay Area, and my hands-down favorite for shopping and browsing. Bi-Rite’s new book, Eat Good Food, is an accessible, concise and beautifully photographed primer for the home cook. It provides well-curated and informative recommendations on how to create a sustainable, healthy kitchen, with recipes to inspire. It is a perfect extension of Bi-Rite’s foundational philosophy: creating community through food.

This is a grocery store that prides itself on operating like a restaurant, made evident by its attention to detail when it comes to food and service. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the emphasis throughout this book is on how quality and simplicity of ingredients make for better home cooking. But the book, and the market, take things a step further, piecing together stories that illustrate the importance of how food is produced, and how to prioritize practices and farmers that create a healthier food system.

Focusing on themes like “How to Use,”How to Store,” and “How to Buy,”  the book’s chapters are organized much like any market you would encounter: the deli case, the produce department, dry goods. I imagine this book serving as my go-to for remembering which type of flour works best for what purpose, the difference between salt-packed and oil-packed anchovies (remember how much I love anchovies?) and how to make informed food choices in any grocery store. The recipes, interspersed throughout the chapters, are inviting, diverse, seasonally inspired, and for the most part, simple enough for any home chef to tackle.

I selected one of the Winter recipes to try because it is a creative version of a family staple: chicken soup. It also reminded me to step out of our usual routine and try something new. My plan was to start with a familiar food, a sure thing, and take it up a notch by adding unexpected ingredients. Worst case, I assumed they would pull out the additions and stick with the basics. But it turned out to be a best case sort of evening: this soup was a total hit!

Preparation

Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 35-45 minutes

  • 1/2 bunch of kale (or chard, spinach, escarole, etc), ends removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 medium head of fennel, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken or as desired
  • 1/2 – 1 cup diced carrots (and/or celery)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh herbs if on hand: parsley or marjoram are great options
  • 1 lemon
  • Optional: Several handfuls of croutons, 1 -2 cups cooked brown rice, etc.

Note: The vegetable amounts listed here are meant to be recommendations. Feel free to adjust proportions based on what you have on hand and personal preference.

Using a 4-5 quart Dutch oven or similar pot, heat 1-2 tbsp. olive oil and saute fennel for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then washed and thinly sliced kale. Cover and cook the kale-fennel mixture, stirring occasionally, until the kale softens, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots, bay leaf, herbs and broth, adjust heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Once at a boil, turn down the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes until the kale is tender and wilted. A few minutes before the soup is done, add in the cooked chicken and garbanzo beans to warm up. Remove from heat, then add in a squeeze of lemon juice if desired, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is or throw in some croutons, rice or pasta for a heartier version. Don’t forget to save some leftovers for lunch!

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Turkish Dinner Part 1: Summer Lentil Soup with Lemon

I woke up the other morning feeling like soup. A light, summery soup, but not a cold one. Not yet. Temperatures were barely grazing 70  so I decided to wait for a real heat wave before bringing out the gazpachos and cold yogurt soups.

Jonah and I honeymooned in Turkey this time of year about ten years ago, and absolutely fell in love with their classic red lentil soup, known as Mercimek Çorbasi. It is beyond humble in terms of ingredients yet the squeeze of lemon and dash of sumac and cilantro at the finish results in something delicious and satisfying either as a light meal or a first course.

Soup preparation also sparked some last-minute inspiration, which I always appreciate, especially on a Wednesday. I spied a pound of ground lamb hanging around the freezer, and turned the simple soup dinner into “Turkish Night.” The ground meat became lamb burger sliders, which we served in toasted pita, drizzled with yogurt sauce. I’ll share those recipes in a separate post – they were amazing. According to Ava, so amazing that the dinner “could be served in a buffet.” There is no higher form of compliment.

PS I just realized I’ve been on a lentils kick. This will pass soon. I promise.

Preparation

Adapted from the New York Times

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 5-10 minutes; total time: 40 minutes

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add 1 large chopped onion and 3-4 minced garlic cloves, and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes.

Stir in 1 tbsp. tomato paste, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1/4 tsp. each kosher salt and black pepper and a pinch of chili powder or cayenne (yes – even for a family meal. It won’t be spicy, I promise!). Sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Add 1 quart of chicken/vegetable broth and 2 cups water (or 6 cups of water) to onion-spice mixture along with 1 cup of red lentils and 2 diced carrots. Bring to a gentle boil, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Cool soup a bit, then purée half the soup using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor. Add pureed soup back to pot. The soup should have some texture.

Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in juice from 1/2 to one lemon (to taste). Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, a sprinkle of sumac if you have it on hand and a drizzle of olive oil.  You can also dust it lightly with chili powder if desired.

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Tis the Season: Matzo Ball Soup


Matzo ball soup is ALWAYS, without question, a huge hit in our family. Ava happened to eat three bowls worth as a first course at our Seder this week – a certain record for one whose eating habits typically resemble a small bird. Why I don’t make this more often, why save such a simple and delicious meal for Passover? I have no answer but I committing myself to make more of an effort to integrate it into the soup rotation over the next few months. After all, during a cold San Francisco summer, who wouldn’t appreciate chicken soup?

I’ll be the first to admit that there are endless variations to the basic matzo ball technique – and now that the store mixes have eliminated MSG from the ingredient list, they seem like a good option. But I happen to be partial to the version published about 5 years ago. Leave it to Martha Stewart to solve the fluffy matzo ball dilemma! Her secret? You may be able to spot it in these photos: separating egg whites and yolks, then whipping egg white and folding them gently into the mix.

I also used this as an opportunity to make a huge pot of chicken stock to freeze in batches – this time, working with raw wings, thighs and legs rather than starting with a roasted carcass. This creates a lighter broth which compliments the heft of the matzoh balls, but any stock will work, even vegetable.

Preparation

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living circa mid-2000′s

Serves 10

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup chicken fat, melted (or substitute vegetable oil)
  • 12 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • coarsely chopped fresh dill for garnish (I added chives as well)

Whisk yolks, fat, 1/2 cup stock and salt in a medium bowl. Season with pepper. Stir in matzo meal and parsley.

Transformation of a humble ingredient

Beat egg whites in a mixer on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Add matzo mixture, whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.


Bring remaining stock to a boil in a large pot. Form 1 1/2 inch balls with wet hands and add to stock. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer matzo balls until they are slightly firm and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Garnish soup with dill.



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Split Pea Soup with Potatoes


The girls and I got caught in a most torrential rain storm this morning, leaving all of us soaked despite what felt like substantial rain gear. They demanded lunch as soon as we stepped into the house, despite it being 11:15AM and me still not being adequately caffeinated to face the day ahead. I fended them off for a while as I dug through the fridge trying to come up with a low-key lunch option. And then I remembered the split pea soup in the freezer! My tendency with soup is to make enough for 20 even though our household maxes out at 4. And its been worse since I bought a huge Le Creuset dutch oven a month ago.

I usually regret this approach when I’m cooking because it does take longer to cook large portions. But I’m always grateful to have a full freezer of good food so the initial investment does pay off.

We love making split pea soup with potatoes – they add a wonderful texture to the soup and make it an even heartier meal. My version is vegetarian, so I rely on lots of oregano and bay leaf to create flavor. A friend turned me on to using smoked salt recently as a way of faking the smoky ham aroma (though you do see crispy pancetta bits on top of this one, just happened to have it on hand). Years ago, Ava and I started making cornbread muffins alongside split pea soup. They make a wonderful accompaniment and only take about 20 minutes to make (including baking time) if you use a mix.

Preparation

Adapted from Parker’s Split Pea Soup, Barefoot Contessa

Serve 8-12

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 1.5-2 hours

  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions or leeks
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots
  • 1 cup medium-diced celery
  • 4-6 small-medium sized potatoes (fingerling, red young potatoes, yukon gold, etc)., in chunks
  • 1 pound or 2 cups dried split green peas
  • 8 cups water

In large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic with the olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper over medium heat until the onions are translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the carrots and celery then saute for 5 more minutes.

Add bay leaves, potatoes,  split peas, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer 1.5-2 hours or until all the peas are soft. Stir frequently to keep the solids from burning on the bottom. Taste for salt and pepper – this would  be a good time to add smoked salt if you like. Serve hot with cornbread. And don’t forget to freeze some for a rainy day!

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Favorite Lentil Soup

Lentils are an established “superfood” and lucky for us, a general favorite in our household for soups, daal (and salads for the adult crew). I started making this lentil soup, adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, when Ava was a toddler. I remember pureeing batches for Talia when she started eating solid foods, and she couldn’t get enough. It was the perfect way to include her into our family dinners without making separate “baby food.” Yes, that kid has an awesome palette and appetite but she’s turned into quite a carnivore as she’s getting older (loves nothing more than salami and cheese for breakfast, perhaps with a small cracker to appease Mom and Dad who are constantly striving for balance). So its exciting for me that she’ll still eat this simple, vegetarian soup with gusto.

 

Preparation

Serves 4-6 + leftovers

  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/3 cup finely diced carrot
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cup French, brown, or beluga lentils (I prefer a mix)
  • 2-3 handfuls of chopped greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.)
  • 1 cup of cooked penne or fusilli (optional) or 2 cups of smaller pasta (shells, orecchiette or other)

 

 

Heat olive oil in a soup pot, add onion and saute until it softens, about 5 minutes. In the meantime, pound garlic in a mortar with 1 tsp of salt until it become a paste. Add tomato paste to the onions and work until they come together.

Add garlic paste, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and parsley, then cook for about 3 minutes.

 

 

Add the lentils, 2 quarts of water, 1 additional teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer partially covered until the lentils are tender. This takes 30-40 minutes. Toward the end of cooking, add the greens and let them wilt in the soup – spinach should take just a minute or two, chard and kale about 10, to soften. Toss in the pasta if using.

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese – or mix in a couple teaspoons of soft chevre as Ava loves to do. It melts into the soup and adds a lovely dimension of flavor.Crusty bread and gruyere are also a favorite addition.

SLOW COOKER PREPARATION: Follow instructions above for sauteing the vegetables, etc. Once they are cooked in a regular pan on the stove, transfer to the slow cooker, add lentils and 7 cups of water. Cook on high setting for 3-3.5 hours.

NOTE: This soup freezes nicely and tastes better a few hours after it is cooked.

 

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Chicken Soup

One of the rewards of roasting a simple, delicious chicken at home (see this post), besides the great leftover options, is that you can use the carcass to make a quart or two of wonderful broth that will elevate any future soup and stew you make. I can usually squirrel away some broth into the freezer but inevitably (and much to my delight, being the Jewish mom that I am) one of my girls will ask for a dinner of chicken soup as soon as they see it. Lately, we end up doing roast chicken one night, leftover chicken for lunch and possibly dinner the next day, and chicken soup another night the same week. Sounds like poultry overload as I write but it somehow works.

Broth Preparation

  • 1 roast chicken carcass, all meat and skin removed (reserve meat for leftover/soup, toss the skin)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, cut in large chunks
  • 3 carrots, cut in large chunks
  • 1-2 leeks if desired
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • a small handful of peppercorns
  • 1-2 tbsp sea salt or kosher salt
  • 5-7 parsley sprigs

Combine the above in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. The chicken should be completely covered by 1-2 inches of water ideally. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1-2 hours, depending on preference. The longer you simmer, the richer the broth. I prefer my broth simple, but feel free to add other herbs and spices as you desire. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours, which allows the fat to collect at the top. Strain cold broth through a fine mesh strainer into either a new pot if you are making chicken soup right away or into storage containers. Refrigerate or freeze as desired.

Chicken Soup – Serves 4

  • leftover roasted chicken OR 2 grilled chicken breasts (about 1 pound) or equivalent boneless, skinless thighs
  • 2 quarts chicken broth/more or less depending on preference and need
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stock, finely chopped
  • noodles or rice
  • finely chopped parsley if on hand
  • avocado, cilantro, finely chopped onion if desired

I like to grill boneless cuts of chicken quickly on the stovetop to serve as the base for my chicken soup, though you could also poach the chicken, or stew it. Once the chicken is cooked, add the chopped carrots and celery to the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add your choice of rice or noodles (if using brown rice, cook it separately and add toward the end of preparation, once carrots and celery are desired softness) and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add chicken, cook for another 5 minutes, garnish with chopped parsley and serve. You can’t go wrong with this simple treat but I especially love the Mexican version with chopped avocado, onion, cilantro and rice.

Serve with a good crusty bread for a simple weeknight dinner.

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Stone Soup

The classic folk tale “Stone Soup” was a favorite of my daughter’s when she was a preschooler. We read that book endlessly, yet neither of us grew tired of the story, with its wise messages of cooperation and community through the lens of sharing food.

So imagine how excited Ava was when her after-school “Cooking in the Garden” teachers decided to make “stone soup” one cool Monday afternoon in October! At pick up time, she couldn’t stop raving about how delicious the soup was, how healthy, how she loved it DESPITE the (judicious) addition of canned tomatoes (not a favorite), and how thrilling it was to share some with me. “Stone soup” was the topic of conversation all evening long and could not be laid to rest until I promised to make some at home. So we did. As luck would have it, the soup fit all of our respective criteria for a successful dinner: the girls loved how “good” it tasted and emphasized that making it was “fun!” The soup became a veritable rainbow of vegetables – that holy grail of healthy kid cooking. Add a side of bread and cheese, and you’ve got yourself an easy weekday meal.

“Stone Soup”  (Adapted from “Cooking in the Garden” after-school class, Grattan Elementary School)

Preparation

Dice carrots, celery and onion and saute this mirepoix with olive oil in a soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes.

Rough chop a variety of vegetables* and add to the base.

Add a bit more olive oil for flavor, a bay leaf if you desire, about 1-2 teaspoons of kosher salt, a dash of pepper and enough water or broth to cover all of the vegetables plus an inch. Bring to a boil then reduce to a rolling simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add ½ cup of chopped, canned tomatoes (or more/less to taste) and any quick-cooking vegetables like spinach and mushrooms toward the end of cooking. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This is the perfect soup to empty out the miscellaneous vegetables floating around in your crisper drawer or pantry. All you need is 1-2 of each, with the emphasis on variety and color. Suggested options include but are definitely not limited too: purple/red/white new potatoes; sweet potatoes; rutabagas; parsnips; kale; yellow/red/orange beets; corn; spinach;

(I originally posted this on my friend Simran’s excellent blog, A Little Yumminess)